THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 11, September, 1951
(Pages 515-518; Size: 13K)
(Number 23 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

CHAPTER the Seventeenth, entitled "Devotion as Regards the Three Kinds of Faith," is again particularly illustrative of the psychological subtlety of Eastern thought. Also, those studying modern psychology and psychiatry will be able to correlate a considerable number of statements in this chapter with contemporary doctrine, both as based on theory and on clinical experience. Consider, for instance, the subject of the tamasic variety of faith. Both the theorist Freud and the present head of the Menninger Clinic write extensively of the "death wish," and the "urge to self-destruction." In much less complicated terminology, Krishna discusses this mysterious, purely negative tendency of the human mind, and intimates the dominant role it may play in determining everyday attitudes towards experience. While Karl Menninger's volume of case histories, Man Against Himself, deals with man's fear and distrust of himself, in a modern setting, the same drama has actually been performed against a religious backdrop, for millennia, as witness the flagellants of both East and West who have sought to punish their own bodies in the hope of securing a reward of the spirit. In Hatha-Yoga practices, we might say, the mind is turned "in," against a portion of itself.

When men pay life the reverse compliment of regarding any of its aspects with horror or loathing, destructive tendencies become rajasically active, and belong with the austerities "practiced with hypocrisy, for the sake of obtaining respect for oneself or for fame or for favor." Such negative attitudes, even though powered by the dynamic impetus of rajasic energy, have a downward trend. Unless a counter current is developed, the desire for "wounding" others or oneself will finally dominate, since the blending of tamas and rajas inevitably inspires a desire to destroy something. Yet we may conclude, in this instance, that the destructive urge is not truly an active quality at all; it is not the generation of energy that comes from aligning oneself with forces which are developing.

A clinical psychiatrist will be suspicious of any man who speaks, however modestly, of his "renunciations." The very fact that one will mention an "austerity" indicates that there has not been a natural, organically balanced inner relinquishment and that it has not been adopted with "supreme faith," nor by those who "long not for a reward." It is therefore understandable that, in the development of modern psychology, all ideals of austerity have come to sound warped or neurotic. Of course, this is obviously an unwarrantable conclusion and some psychologists have tried to warn against this excessive bias, which can nullify a scientist's impartiality. Carl Jung was but one of many who have realized that the urge for a higher-than-sensual existence demands discipline and control of "natural" impulses, and a code by which one's conduct can conform with the ideal of a higher life. (Cf. Modern Man in Search of a Soul.) The extreme opposition in viewpoint between Western religion and Western psychology, incidentally, would not have been necessary if the philosophical psychology of The Bhagavad-Gita had been made the basis for the Christian religion, and the moralistic tone of the Old Testament discarded in favor of patient self-analysis.

A discussion of the relationship between various kinds of food and the qualities predominating in man's nature, may be used to introduce a subject upon which psychiatry and psychoanalysis, despite all their recent insights and advances, have as yet scarcely touched. It is obvious that the most important food for man is the food of the mind -- the ideas, words, and concepts he imbibes in conversation, through reading, through "dwelling on the thing to be realized." The days before the wide dissemination of the printed word were, in a sense, days of protection while man did not have sufficient control over his lower manasic propensities. In later centuries, we have accumulated an incredible series of "art-forms" which transfer impressions, visually, to the mind. These, alone, are multiplied in countless divisions and sub-divisions, while the mind of the average man is also continually churning with the undigested material supplied by radio, magazines, motion pictures and television. But each paragraph read, each broadcast heard, each telecast viewed, each short story or novel encountered, are all food for the mind. Each and every one of these isolated half-experiences will have a permanent effect, for this food goes into the blood and sinews of the psychic man and helps create his future sensitivities.

Only a few moderns have been able to think of ways of adjudging this "food" by simple principles of evaluation -- excepting, that is, the innumerable dictators who operate within closed circles of partisanship, either religious or political. The clinical psychologist often develops some of the impersonal powers of evaluation and analysis which would be necessary in bringing a new science of correlation to birth, but it may be argued that these powers can never be galvanized into fully useful action unless some spiritual view of man's function in evolution is accepted as a fundamental, self-evident premise. Wondrously familiar with the ways of tamasic faith, astute in discerning the manner in which dispersions of rajasic energy lead to tamas, many of these modern men of great capacity halt, hesitant, at the threshold of the Sattvic realm. For there is no true Sattva quality unless there is Soul. And there is no "soul" for the modern psychologists -- nor should there be -- until "soul" comes to be thought of as the initial factor in the germination and self-growth in man. The theological area of soul -- man's relationship to a God outside his understanding -- is barren.

The Gita, in its proffering of a Science of the Soul, suggests many criteria for judging food for the mind. The student may find the following brief passage, for instance, a point of departure, by analogy, in evaluating reading material:

Know that food which is pleasant to each one, as also sacrifices, mortification, and almsgiving, are of three kinds; hear what their divisions are. The food which increases the length of days, vigor and strength, which keeps one free from sickness, of tranquil mind, and contented, and which is savory, nourishing, of permanent benefit and congenial to the body, is that which is attractive to those in whom the sattva quality prevaileth. The food which is liked by those of the rajas quality is over bitter, too acid, excessively salt, hot, pungent, dry and burning, and causeth unpleasantness, pain, and disease. Whatever food is such as was dressed the day before, that is tasteless or rotting, that is impure, is that which is preferred by those in whom predominates the quality of tamas or indifference.
The first obvious suggestion is that the best literature is affirmative -- rising, first, above indifference to the search for vital action, and then above a too great concentration upon the passions generated by tribulation. In this context, writing belongs in the sattvic category when the best of the "pungency" and the best "salt" of the passional realm have been extracted and refined. As in the case with the duality of manas, the ways go up or down for man on the rajasic field of action -- either one assimilates, affirmatively, the lessons of experience, or he glamorizes violence of feeling.

It is certainly not difficult to observe here the failure in much of popular reading material to contribute to the life of mind. While some authors allow one to feel strength and dignity in their leading characters, others give to their "hero" every imaginable morbid and sordid leaning. Here, the trend is downward, from rajas to tamas, with decadence providing a perverted fascination. The extent to which "the decadence of Europe" is a fact might even be measured by the absorption of innumerable European fiction authors with decadence. ("Food as was dressed the day before, that is tasteless and rotting.") A line from a critic of the "tamasic" novels illustrates the aptness of Krishna's analysis, when projected into a modern context: "L. shows that his brutal environment has made B. mean, morose, furtive and sexually distorted; but he gives no clue as to why a mean, morose and sexually disturbed youth should warrant four hundred pages of loving attention." "Loving" attention is correct here, certainly, for it is the devotion to the quality of tamas which produces such characteristics in a novel, as also in man's personal life.

Even, then, in the different coteries of literary opinion, we may see how our lives are dominated by special allegiance to one or another of the Three Qualities. The great writer, or the great psychologist, who reaches through tamasic and rajasic preoccupation to sattva -- the quality which sustains with hope for a brighter life -- is able to point out new ways of thinking for many "who have lost their path in Darkness." Worthy literature and worthy psychology must be affirmative, reaching above both criticism and cynicism to point out the spiritual roots of human destiny.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Satiation of a craving does not remove its cause. If we eat, and dissipate hunger, the need for food will soon be felt again. And so with all cravings and tendencies which are classified as bad or low, or those which we wish to get rid of. They must be opposed. To satisfy and give way to them will produce but a temporary dullness. The real cause of them all is in the inner man, on the plane of desire whether mental or physical. So long as no effort is made to remove them they remain there. 


--William Q. Judge

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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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